2019 DC Poolesville High School

Furnace Hills Coffee™ in Westminster, Maryland, is committed to hiring people with developmental disabilities. The company's first employee, Erin Baldwin, has a disability and is the chief coffee roaster. She is so skilled at roasting coffee that she has inspired the company’s phrase, "Special Coffee Roasted by Special People."

Furnace Hills Coffee partnered with a student engineering team, "Team SIC" from Poolesville High School, as part of SourceAmerica's Design Challenge. Dave Baldwin sought to create an employment opportunity for his daughter, Erin, and opened the coffee roasting shop. They run the shop together, each playing to their strengths. The students toured the shop and talked with Erin and Dave about the challenges Erin was facing at work. Over several weeks of visiting it became clear the roasting was Erin’s strong suit, and packaging the coffee was difficult. Bagged coffee is one of the most popular items in the shop, and where Dave asked for help.    

"Dave mentioned how great it would be if Erin could work on that task (of packaging coffee), so we set to create something that would help her," said Christian Kim, student at Poolesville High School and team leader. With Erin as their subject matter expert, Christian and his teammates, Sadhana Lolla and Isaac Wang, developed a device to help her more accurately and quickly measure one-pound bags of coffee beans. Their goal was to create a device that would allow Erin, and all Furnace Hills Coffee employees, to manage the process independently and accurately. 

To meet their challenge, Team SIC created the Coffee Cube. Sitting atop a scale, the Coffee Cube measures the coffee by weight and dispenses one pound of beans directly into a bag. The Coffee Cube has decreased the time it takes employees to weigh and bag coffee beans by approximately 90 percent, substantially increasing efficiency and productivity. 

"When we had the final Coffee Cube device completed, we brought it to Erin and she was able to use it quickly and easily," said Kim. "It was really great to see her smiling and enjoying being able to use the Coffee Cube."

The Coffee Cube was successful in increasing employee independence and job satisfaction, helping Furnace Hills Coffee deliver on its promise of "Special Coffee Roasted by Special People." In fact, Dave is now interested in ordering a Coffee Cube for two of his other locations.